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Social Network Or Political Battleground?

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By Katherine. Abraham:

Right to an opinion is my privilege, accepting it is your choice!

The Indian political diaspora has always been highlighted by extremist comments in the election season. Till now, it has been the politicians who dug the dirt, bathed in it and played an active round of mud slinging.

how-social-media-leverages-shame-for-better-and-worse-650x0For the past few months, however, the scenario has changed. This political smear campaign which till now was confined to the limits of the political class has slowly crept into social networking sites with sparring internet rivals venting out venomous statements against each other. Gone are the days of civility and cultured debates among the educated class. Today, we have come to a point where the only parameter for a political discussion is who will stoop the lowest to conquer.

I joined Twitter three years ago, to be precise March 2009. The IPL fiasco had fuelled my curiosity and I ended up opening an account. For the first two months I wondered, if there was anything constructive that came off this site. As I continued to tweet I received replies, some gracious tweeters ensured that I felt at home by initiating conversations on diverse topics. It was then that I realised the benefit of an open forum. Anyone could join the conversation and in time I found many like- minded tweeters who shared my interests, line of thought and ideology. I learned a lot from the “au contraire” points of view that I received. Twitter became an intermittent dialogue where one did not expect to be lauded with any material gift or prize but you continued your daily routines along with a refreshing discussion to end the day.

Three years on, I am seriously contemplating if my first opinion of Twitter was right. From an online debating and discussion forum, Twitter is now the National Slander Society of India or the NSS. I am appalled at the level the Twitterati stoops to make a point. Read their profiles and you will notice that these are not mediocre unemployed individuals with nothing better to do. There are doctors, media professionals, young collegians all indulging in what could be termed as nothing less than a social media street fight. Is civility too much to ask for? Political humor and wit has always been welcome but what happens when you are abused, slandered and even consequently insulted for supporting an ideology or a political party?

With the 2014 General elections a few months away, social networking forums have transformed into political battlegrounds of the so – called ‘privileged elitists‘.

I may support a Rahul Gandhi or I may support a Modi or I may not support anybody. Is that a cardinal sin? Am I not entitled to a point of view? Netiquette has always been an issue on social networking sites but degrading yourself and demeaning another is absolutely unacceptable. Can we not agree to disagree and still be friends?

Politics has always been the result of a clash of ideologies, but today it is a clash of supporters. For me, the wrath of the Twitterati is highly disturbing. Perhaps the worst part is to if you try to evade someone who slanders you, they believe they are right and proclaim victory. Little do they understand that silence isn’t acquiescence, instead it is a way of saying I won’t stoop to an irrational and unreasonable line of argument that the opponent has resorted to.

According to a leading English daily, An activist from the All India Progressive Women’s Association has threatened to sue a networking site after she was threatened to be raped by a participant on a live chat. The number of women like her are at the receiving end of this undesirable salvo is incomputable.

A friend of mine was insulted because she viewed her opinions in favour of a certain political party. Is this the current status of Indian society whose hallmark has always been politeness, whose children have been taught to respect their elders, whose elders have been the light-bearers of positivity? Is this the demise of basic courtesy? Is fallacious reasoning peppered with abuse the answer to every debate?

Freedom of speech and expression has been a moot point for debate for a very long time now but when I read vile comments being leveled for the sake of a brownie point I am of the view that these sites need to be moderated given that self- moderation is quite pathetically failing.

For all that counts, I hope that you, as an intelligent and rational individual reader, will take into cognizance what is just written. The essence of a debate lies in the ability of the debater to pursue his point of view without denigrating the opponent. If you must, work on the art of persuasion rather than reducing yourself to a certified social media hoodwink.

Achieving political dexterity at the cost of being morally inept is a price too high to pay!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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